The Art of Contract Negotiation for Women Writers

We’ve heard it before: Women earn less money and benefits than their male counterparts. But the question is why? I believe the answer lies in the fact that women tend to shy away from negotiation. Women who do ask for more money or benefits are often viewed by society as overly aggressive or pushy. Overwhelmingly, romance writers are women who will find these essential skills helpful when negotiating their own publishing contracts.

3Contract

As an attorney, I’ve had the benefit of hours of negotiation training and have negotiated scores of civil settlements. Negotiation is a craft that can be studied and learned and will help with every facet of a writer’s career. I plan to blog about specific author contract clauses in the future, but I’m starting out with the very important art of negotiation.  Here are some tips:

 Don’t be afraid to ask.

I know as well as the next writer how hard it is to get “The Call.” I received many rejections before I sold my first book. We are all hesitant to ask for anything after waiting so long, and we feel we should be eternally grateful. But asking does not mean we aren’t grateful. Asking means we are taking our writing careers seriously and that we are intelligent businesswomen who intend to be successful in this profession.

Be Prepared.

Research is key.As members of RWA and our local chapters, we have excellent resources. The RWA website as well as the monthly Romance Writer’s Report magazine have a wealth of information on contract clauses. Conferences frequently offer workshops on author contracts and what’s standard in the industry. And don’t forget to ask fellow authors what is in their contracts and what clauses in particular they negotiated. Gathering as much information as possible is the best strategy.

Create a script in advance.

Before you call or meet with the editor or agent, you should have a mental outline of what you want. Items in that outline should include: your wish list; your reality list; and a deal breaker item, if there is one.

Develop options.

Understand in advance that you will not get everything you ask for. I’m not just talking about money here—there’s so much more to a contract. There are publishers that do not negotiate royalties or advances. This does not mean, however, that you cannot negotiate other sections of the contract to your benefit. What about the author’s grant of rights, for example, foreign rights? Publisher option clauses? Rights of reversion clauses? Basket accounting? Author’s rights in case of publisher bankruptcy? Or even more basic, what about more free and discounted author copies?

Know your negotiation power.

This is critical. If you are unpublished and you get an offer from an agent or editor, you have significantly much less negotiation power than a NY Times Bestseller. This doesn’t mean you have no power, but you must keep what you do have in perspective. An unpublished author cannot insist on a six figure deal and a cross-country book tour. That is demanding and unprofessional.

Stay Unemotional.

I know. This is your baby. You have spent countless hours polishing the first page, let alone the first chapter. But remember that publishing is a business, and the agent or editor is interested in selling your book and making money. The most effective negotiators are the unemotional ones.

Take a time out.

Don’t agree to anything immediately. Wait at least a day, preferably more, to think things through and clear your mind. Talk to other writers. Your spouse. Your critique partner. Your attorney, if necessary. That means if you get “The Call” and are jumping up and down with joy, do not agree to the representation or sign on the dotted line without waiting the requisite time period. After you calm down, you will be able to look at the fine print with different eyes.

Be professional.

Ask, don’t demand. Start out by saying, “I have a few concerns with the language of the contract…”

You’d be surprised what you can accomplish. Even if you do not get everything you hope for, you let industry professionals know that you are serious about your career and your books and that you are an author who is a worthwhile investment.

So have you ever negotiated any type of contract? What’s your best tip? I’d love hear your views, so please share!

And stay tuned  for my next blog on contract clauses.

Tina Gabrielle

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Advice for Understanding the New Age in Publishing and Promotion

Sarah Wendell, the creator and blogger extraordinaire from the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, offered an extremely insightful presentation on future trends in the romance market at the monthly New Jersey Romance Writers meeting.

I hope my interpretation of our meeting might help writers gain insight into the evolving, complex world of publishing. I suggest you visit Sarah’s site, for more information—and to check out the plethora of interesting articles, reviews, and laugh-out-loud comments posted regularly.
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Following the Trends

Boeken Kringloop Woerden 02

On a recent trip home, my uncle asked me, “There’s no chance your pen name is E.L. James, is there? Ha, ha, ha.” (Yes, I know. Comedy runs deep in my family.) “I wish,” I answered sincerely, thinking of my mortgage. “Well, why don’t you write a book like that?” someone else asked me.

Yeah, I thought. Why don’t I write an erotic romance? Thanks to authors like Anne Rice, Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks, I’m very familiar with the genre. And it’s hot, hot, hot! right now, due to Fifty Shades.

But do I want to write a story because the genre is trending…or write the story most suited to my voice?

Which is not to say it can’t be both. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying to write in a different genre as long as you are willing to abandon it if it doesn’t feel right. Like trying on a pair of skinny jeans, hoping they fit, but putting them back on the shelf because all they do is emphasize your muffin top. (Note: This has SO not happened to me.) You may discover a talent for an untried genre. Plus, learning to adapt your voice to different genres seems to be the best way expand your talent as a writer.

Agent Rachelle Gardner says the only way to make a living as a writer is through volume and variety. To think you’re going to write one book that’s going to sell millions of copies is unrealistic. Yes, it happens to a lucky few. But for the rest of us, we’ve got to learn how to write many sellable, marketable books over different genres. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t want to jump into every publishing fad that comes along, either. I would be hard pressed to ever write a paranormal, for example. Or an Amish romance (which I was told at RWA ’11 are very popular). My brain isn’t wired that way and that would be some Herculean flexing of my writing muscle.

It’s tricky. As newbies, we’re told, “Write a unique story that is riveting and polished, and it will find an audience,” but is that really true? Sure, self-publishing makes this idea slightly more plausible. But there are gatekeepers in publishing, whether it’s an agent or an editor, and they know what is selling and what’s still sitting on the shelves. You may have an outstanding vampire story on your hands, but no one’s buying it because the genre has been labeled as dead by industry insiders. (Pun intended.) Then what?

So in your writing journeys, how have you grappled with the trends? Let us know! Anyone who leaves a comment in the next four weeks will be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate, courtesy of the Femmes.

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